Cyclones step closer to title

Photo by Dave Boyd
ElizabethtonÕs Frank Hardy collects a sack.

By Ivan Sanders
The Elizabethton Cyclones were like a hunter on a safari and the main prey they wanted to take on Thursday night in Blountville was Cougars.
A successful hunt was achieved, as the Cyclones bagged the talented Central Cougars by a final score of 29-22 to maintain a share of the conference lead heading into the final game of the regular season next Thursday at Brown-Childress Stadium.
"Central is a very talented team and we are just fortunate to hold them in check and come away with a win," said Coach Eddie Pless, who was filling in for head coach Tommy Jenkins. "We've set ourselves up for an opportunity for a championship next week, but I know Coach Howell will have his team ready and we need to enjoy tonight and be ready to go back to work Monday."
Charles Peters helped the Cyclones grab the momentum in the first half, as the sophomore cornerback gave Cougar quarterback Tyler Harvey fits by snagging two interceptions. The first interception of the night came on the Cougars first offensive possession to give the Cyclones good field position at the Cyclone 45-yard line.
From there, the Cyclones went on a 12-play, 55-yard drive that ended when big, senior fullback Justin Grace continued his solid play by plowing in from two yards out for the 7-0 lead after Brian Freeman converted the extra point.
Peters' second interception came 1:50 into the second quarter when he took the ball at the Central 35 and returned it to the Cougar 23-yard line. Lester Bailey took care of business from there, as the senior tailback covered the distance on three carries to put the Cyclones up 14-0 after Freeman once again was true on the conversion.
With momentum appearing to be on the Cyclone side, Old Mo decided to leap ship as the Cougars took the ensuing kickoff 85-yards for a score by a speedy Matt Harr. Aaron Doran's extra point attempt was good and the Cyclone lead was sliced in half at 14-7.
After a good return by J.C. Atkinson put the Cyclones on its own 43-yard line, disaster struck the Cyclones on a second down play when Adam Turley hauled in a 17-yard pass only to fumble the ball away to Central on its own 47-yard line.
Central, still riding along with the momentum, went on a 12-play, 47-yard drive of its own to cash in for six when fullback Ryan Davenport punched through the Cyclone defense from one yard out. Doran converted and the game was knotted at 14-all with 1:35 remaining in the first half.
Elizabethton grabbed Old Mo by the neck in the waning seconds before half. The Cougars tried to squib the kickoff after Davenport's score, but Ryan Kennedy took the pigskin on a hop and carried the ball to Central's 43-yard line.
Quarterback Weston Jeffers then masterfully managed the clock while guiding the Cyclones to Central's eight yard line behind the hard running of Bailey and Brad Osborne, and two receptions for 16-yards to Nathan Bishop.
With only :03 left in the half, Freeman came on and calmly booted a 25-yard field goal to push the Cyclones slimly ahead by a score of 17-14 at the intermission.
"Charles definitely set the tone for the game with those two interceptions in the early stages of the contest," stated Pless. "I really think it took them out of the game plan they wanted to originally use and that being the passing game. Peters really played a great all-around game with those big tackles as well."
The Cyclones came out of the locker room and took the opening kickoff of the second half, only to see Freeman's second attempt at a 39-yard field goal just miss to the right. The remaining portion of the third saw both teams exchange the ball, but both defenses responded to keep the period scoreless.
EHS forced Central into a punting situation with 10:25 remaining in the game. Bailey picked up a 12-yard carry, with a 15-yard personal foul penalty being added after Bailey was taken down out-of-bounds to move the ball to Central's 46-yard line.
Grace nosed the ball to the 43 from which Bailey covered the final distance on a run where Bailey resembled a mouse working a maze, as he weaved through the Cougar defense. The kick was blocked, but the Cyclones held the 23-14 advantage.
Elizabethton added it's final score when Bishop set the Cyclones up in fantastic field position after taking a tipped ball off the Cougar receiver's hand and taking it to the Central eight-yard line.
"I saw the tight end running a two-route and saw him coming deep," said Bishop. "I really didn't get a fast break on the ball, but I took the tip. We really played with a lot of heart as a team tonight."
On the first play from scrimmage after the interception, Bailey carried the ball to the three-yard line, where he was rocked hard on a hit, causing the ball to jump out of Bailey's hands into the end zone. Turley alertly jumped on the loose pigskin for the score and the Cyclones led 29-14 with 2:18 remaining.
Central wasn't about to go away as the Cougars took the kickoff and marched down the field on the arm of Harvey, who connected for 49-yards through the air on the drive. Jeff Beverly caught a scoring toss from 18-yards away with Brandon Ellison converting the two-point play to pull the Cougars within seven of EHS at 29-22.
Doran's onside kick attempt traveled only six-yards with the Cyclones running out the clock to take the vital win.
The Cyclone defensive effort was strong all night led by Turley and Peters with seven stops each followed by Justin Conners and Derek Nave with six hits each. Cody Bunton and Josh Broyles contributed with five stops each while Cody Nidiffer and Frank Hardy, who recorded a sack, played solidly as well.
Said Bunton: "We worked hard all week on stopping the running game. We knew if we could shut their running game down, it would cause them trouble. I feel like we have played with a lot of intensity, especially in the last three weeks because we have really came together as a team."
Bailey had another big night offensively, carrying the ball 24 times for 139 yards and two scores. Grace finished with 10 rushes for 22 yards and a score while Osborne added three carries for 24 yards.
Peter's performance was one that caused a lot of eyes to pop open. It was one that was worked on all week in preparations for the all-important game.
"I studied film all week on how they ran their routes and fortunately was able to be Johnny-on-the-spot tonight," said Peters. "I wanted to be a big part of this game and I am glad we are another step closer to the title."
The Cyclones have only the Unicoi County Blue Devils standing between them and a conference title. The game will be played Thursday instead of Friday at Brown-Childress Stadium due to the Halloween holiday.